Ensure food safety while tailgating this soccer season

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Are you planning a tailgate or “homegate” this football season? As fans fire up the grills in anticipation of the game, Penn State Extension food safety experts offer tips and strategies to prevent foodborne illnesses before they interfere with your fun.

Tailgaters can download a free food safety tips booklet written by Catherine Cutter, Professor of Food Science at the College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension Associate Director of Food Safety and Quality Programs.

In addition, experts from the Penn State Extension Food Safety and Quality Department have put together two videos on hosting safe and successful tailgate and doorstep parties.

Here are some tips to avoid being punished with foodborne illnesses:


Thaw meat properly. Safely thawing frozen meat items keeps them out of the temperature danger zone and below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When defrosting meat or other foods, allow sufficient time for thawing in the refrigerator. Do not defrost frozen food when the outside temperature is warm.

When preparing raw and ready-to-eat food, use colored cutting boards and separate knives to avoid cross-contamination.

Prepare a hand washing station. Prioritizing handwashing is key to avoiding cross-contamination. Create a hand washing station by setting up a 5 gallon water container with a faucet, paper towels, liquid soap, a trash bag, and a bucket to catch wash water.

Pack food-grade disinfectants, such as disinfectant wipes or sprays for disinfecting food-contact surfaces.

Pack beverage, food and meat coolers separately to protect against temperature abuse from opening and closing the coolers too frequently. Bring enough ice to keep coolers below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until the food is gone or returned to the fridge.

When you’re ready for the tailgate, pack the coolers last so the groceries stay coldest.


Wash hands before handling food or eating and after touching raw meat, sneezing or coughing, handling trash, putting up a canopy, petting the dog, or throwing a soccer ball. In a pinch, tailgaters can use disposable antiseptic wet wipes to wash their hands. Wipe hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of proper handwashing unless handwashing facilities are unavailable.

Keep raw meat cold and cooked meat warm. Immediately remove the meat from the cooler before placing it on the grill. Cook only one portion of meat that will be consumed in two hours or less.

Cook the meat thoroughly. Make sure the meat has reached the recommended internal temperature before consuming. Tailgaters can find a chart of recommended cooking temperatures for various foods on the Penn State Extension website. Use a clean, properly calibrated thermometer to check the final internal temperature of the food. Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

Don’t use the color of the meat to determine proper cooking. Meat that has turned a “cooked” color may not have reached the right internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.


Prevent cross-contamination by using clean utensils and plates for cooked meats. Whenever possible, store raw meat in a separate cool box from ready-to-eat foods. Otherwise, store raw meat in leak-proof containers and among ready-to-eat foods in the cooler. Raw meat juices can contain bacteria that can contaminate cooked or ready-to-eat products.

Make a note of the time when the food should be thrown away. If food is left out for more than two hours, it must be discarded. In hot weather above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, food should not be left outside for more than an hour.

Put the food away when everyone has finished eating. Pack up everything that can be saved and discard everything else. All stored food should be stored in refrigerators for later use.

Understand the temperature danger zone. Microorganisms, including those that cause foodborne illness, grow rapidly between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep food out of the temperature-hazard zone by storing, cooking, refrigerating and keeping food at the right temperatures.


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